Emeka Anyanwu couldn’t believe her eyes.
It was June, and Anyanwu, the founder of Aˈme-kə, an online retail space for inclusive makeup, beauty, and grooming brands founded by Black entrepreneurs, was checking over the growth of her business during the previous 90 days.
She was astonished. Within three months, there had been an 800 percent increase in total orders, a 783 percent increase in units sold, and an 830 percent increase in total revenue.
Anyanwu, who opened the online retailer in early 2019, attributes the sudden surge in sales to the ensuing protests and campaigns raising awareness and support for Black businesses, after George Floyd’s death in late May. Her business shows no signs of slowing down – through September, Anyanwu has seen a continual increase in sales and growth.
“It’s certainly unfortunate that it took a tragedy like George Floyd, for this moment to take place,” said Anyanwu.
According to a report by the National Black Chamber of Commerce and Groupon, it’s the same reality for many Black-owned businesses. Around 75 percent of Black-owned, small businesses saw an uptick in customers since the beginning of June. The study also highlights, however, the inequities Black businesses and entrepreneurs, like Anyanwu, continue to face. Though she appreciates the newfound interest in Aˈme-kə, Anyanwu says it has been a struggle to be a Black female business owner.
A healthcare attorney by trade, Anyanwu decided to take a leap of faith in 2018 to start Aˈme-kə, a passion project created out of the desire to fill what she calls a gap in the beauty industry. Anyanwu, a makeup and beauty product consumer herself, says she noticed the lack of product selection for Black Americans or people with dark complexions over the years. When researching to see whether it was because of a lack of Black-owned and founded beauty brands— she found it was just the opposite.
“There are a lot of Black-owned and founded brands, and so I found it was really about an opportunity gap,” Anyanwu said. “I wanted to address that by creating a space that will provide positive shopping experiences for everyone, including the Black consumers.”
Thus, Aˈme-kə, the phonetic spelling of Anyanwu’s first name, was born. At Aˈme-kə, 100 percent of virtual shelf space is devoted to brands and businesses founded or owned by Black entrepreneurs. The retail store sells cosmetic and beauty products, makeup, skincare, haircare, bath and body products, and grooming products for men. But even with the focus on Black business, Anyanwu says, anyone can find something at her shop.
“Our business tagline is ‘Brands made with melanin in mind’ – meaning it’s not exclusive to Black consumers, but the brands hosted on the site created products with Black consumers in mind,” Anyanwu said.
According to a study by American Express, Black women are starting businesses more than any racial group in the United States. Since 2007, the number of companies owned by Black women has grown by 164%. Yet, female-owned businesses are being shut out of venture capital. In 2017, out of $85 billion in VC funding, only 2.2 percent went to female entrepreneurs, while women of color received less than 1 percent.
Anyanwu said she struggled to receive funding for Aˈme-kə and used her own money to create the business. But the issue isn’t just how Black companies’ are funded; once they incorporate, Anyanwu says it’s challenging for Black brands to get onto retail shelves, which is why her shelf space is only devoted to Black-owned and founded brands. One of those brands is Omolewa Cosmetics, created by Irene Dele.
“For retailers to have their shelves dedicated to Black-owned brands is great, and I think a Aˈme-kə is amazing,” said Dele. “My products are on her site, but I also go there to shop for hair products. And when I’m there to get one thing, like conditioner or hair oil, I end up buying more things because there are so many brands with products that work for me.”
This summer, as racial tensions increased across the United States, the outcry for people to shop from Black-owned businesses continued. In June, Sephora signed on, along with various other companies, to a 15 percent pledge— providing 15 percent of their shelf space to products from Black-owned businesses.
Artemis Patrick, the chief merchandising officer of Sephora, told The New York Times, “Ultimately, this commitment is about more than the prestige products on our shelves. It starts with a long-term plan diversifying our supply chain and building a system that creates a better platform for Black-owned brands to grow while ensuring Black voices help shape our industry. We recognize we can do better.”
Sephora works with roughly 290 brands in the United States, where it has more than 400 stores. In June, the company said it sold only nine Black-owned brands, including Fenty Beauty and Pat McGrath Labs.
“Sephora stepped up, which was great, and they signed on to the pledge,” Anyanwu said. “But in that, we also learned that they had less than 10 Black-owned brands of their 290 brands. I have over 20 brands,” Anyanwu said. “I already have more Black-owned brands than Sephora, a huge company.”
“And even at the 15 percent mark, that means it will still be less than 50 brands if they stick to 15 percent only, and don’t go beyond that. Whereas if people support Black-owned retailers like mine, we dedicate 100% of our shelf space to Black-owned and Black founded brands.”
Candera Thompson, of St. Louis, features her Bask & Bloom Essentials products on Aˈme-kə. She, too, has seen an increase in business in recent months.
“I think there is so much opportunity with this movement that’s happening now, and I hope it doesn’t die down,” Thompson said. “But just educating people on who we are and what we have to offer, Aˈme-kə helps to get the brands out there that people may not have heard of any other way. So just having that space accessible for us is a wonderful opportunity.”
Another Black-owned brand that’s seen an increase in sales is Shantaquilette Carter- Williams’ business Girl B Natural, even though she launched right at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We were a little worried about our launch and how we would be impacted, and then the George Floyd incident happened. And there was just really an outcry for people to support Black businesses,” Carter-Williams said. “And then a lot of people were hashtagging our names, and we ended up featured in Beauty Independent, and our sales skyrocketed. We still have had an increase in sales since that time.”
As the months have labored on, and sales and recognition have increased for Anyanwu and these other Black- owned brands, they pray that this isn’t just a moment in time. They hope a real movement has begun— a movement that will put Black-owned, and specifically, Black female-owned businesses, on an equal playing field.
“Be cognizant and intentional about creating space and opportunities for Black entrepreneurs in whatever market or industry you work in,” Anyanwu said.